Tips & How-to

How to find all-purpose baking flour

Flour is a major kitchen staple – are you using the right one in your recipes?

Flour is one of the most-used ingredients in the world. Pasta, bread, pizza dough, and pastries are just a few things you can make with flour.

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But did you know that there are many different kinds of flour? And that ‘all-purpose’ flour, while the most common and most versatile, isn’t the best choice for every recipe?

From what it is to popular flour substitutes and which recipes you should use it in, consider this your all-purpose flour 101 guide. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about all purpose flour.

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What is all-purpose flour in Australia?

What is AP flour? All-purpose flour (also known as ‘AP flour’ for short) is a general white wheat flour designed for various recipes. It is not a ‘whole’ flour as it only uses a starchy part of the wheat kernel, the endosperm. Because it doesn’t include the oil-contributing wheat germ, AP flour generally has a long shelf life.

All-purpose flour is made from a combination of hard flours (which have a high gluten content), and soft flours (with a low gluten content). Most AP flour has a rough protein/gluten content of about 8-11%, depending on the mix.

A bowl of flour on a wooden bench
(Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)

Of course, if you want the best possible results, it’s still recommended to use the right kind of flour – harder gluten-rich bread flour for making structured and chewy breads, softer low-gluten cake flour for dense cakes and pastries. But if you don’t have access to specialty flours, or if you’re just a home cook who wants an all-around flour for most baking needs, then all-purpose flour can still yield satisfactory results.

Is plain flour and all-purpose flour the same thing?

Yes, all-purpose flour is the same as ‘plain flour’ in the UK and Australia. As flour has a natural yellowish hue, some brands age or bleach their plain flour to get that bright white colour you’re most familiar with. Most white flours are also fortified with iron, riboflavin, folic acid, niacin, and vitamin B to replace the nutrients that are stripped during the bleaching process.

All-purpose flour vs cake flour vs other types of flour

Plain flour

Plain flour has a medium level of protein/gluten, which is what makes it ‘all-purpose’. It won’t give you the same chewiness as high protein strong white flour (a.k.a. bread flour or baker’s flour), and it will produce tougher cakes than if you use low-protein cake or pastry flour. But if you only have room in your cupboard for one type of flour, it produces decent results no matter what you’re trying to make.

Bread flour

Bread flour is made of ‘hard’ wheat that has more gluten, the compound responsible for creating that nice stretchy structure you see in bread. Higher gluten levels result in chewier breads. If you use cake flour in a bread recipe, your bread will be much too flimsy.

Cake flour

Cake flour has a much finer feel than bread flour’s crumbly texture. It has a lower protein content, which produces that soft, light, and delicate quality that you want in your sponge cakes or pastries. If you use bread flour in a cake recipe, you’ll get tough and chewy cakes – not the best texture.

A pile of pastries on a shop shelf
(Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)

00 flour

Then there’s 00 flour. The number refers to how finely ground it is – 00 flour has the smallest particles. This is often used to create homemade pastas and noodles. You can still make pasta with plain flour, although it’s a bit more challenging to work with.

Wheat flour

Wheat flour is versatile and comes in various forms, such as all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, and cake flour. The flour is made by milling the wheat grains, which removes the bran and germ, resulting in a finely ground powder.

Self-raising flour

You may also be able to find something called ‘self-raising flour’ at the grocery. These flours have a leavener in them that helps create height and tenderness. Only use self-raising flour if the recipe calls for it.

How to make self raising flour

While it might be easy and convenient for a busy home cook, you don’t necessarily need to buy self-raising flour. You can ‘make’ self-raising flour at home  by adding 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder (and a pinch of salt) to a cup of all-purpose flour, or keep some yeast in your cupboard. 

All-purpose flour substitutes

If you’re gluten-sensitive or just want to try something new, there are several alternatives to all-purpose flour. This includes:

  • Almond flour: best for baked goods that are dense, like cakes or brownies
  • Coconut flour: high in protein and fat, won’t give a fluffy or light texture, cut down on oil or eggs if using
  • Brown rice flour: easy to work with, mild flavour, use in baked goods
  • Chickpea flour: has a strong nutty taste, high in protein, best for breads and baked goods
  • Quinoa flour: high in protein, use in baked goods and breads, combine with other flours

If you have bread flour and cake flour at home, you can also combine the two to create all-purpose flour. Experiment with the ratio; some people prefer a more-or-less even 50/50 split, but you might want to try other combinations out depending on the level of protein you’re aiming for.

Little ceramic bowls of flour and almonds ready for baking
(Credit: Getty) (Credit: Getty)

All-purpose flour recipes

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